With women underrepresented within STEM industries, Emma Rhodes, Head of Research and Development at Sterling Pharma, talks about her journey into a STEM career.
Firstly, can you tell us about how you first got into STEM?
At school, I chose a mix of science and language subjects. These included Chemistry, Physics and German A-level as well as French AS-Level. I liked both sciences and languages but didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career. I continued both at university by taking Chemistry with German as a degree: 70% chemistry and 30% German. This was a four-year course with one year living in Germany. During that year I worked for a chemical company and enjoyed it. Because of this, I decided to pursue a career in science and hoped that I would still be able to use my languages – which is definitely possible!
Did you do any other studying after your degree?
After I completed my Chemistry degree, I then went on to do a PhD in organic chemistry, which I completed in the USA. I loved both of my experiences of living abroad (in Germany and the USA) and these experiences will always stay with me.
Can you tell me about your career path?
After finishing my PhD, I stayed in the USA for another year and got my first job in a research and development lab. This lab is where they manufactured new coatings/paints rather than pharmaceuticals.
I then moved back to the UK in the North East and started working as a Lab Development Chemist in January 2001 for a company called ChiRex. That company then went on to become Sterling Pharma Solutions! During my time with Sterling, I have had many opportunities. Following my role as Lab Development Chemist I progressed to Research and Development (R&D) Co-ordinator then, R&D Group Leader managing a team of 8-10 people. I then went through to New Product Introduction Manager (project management and customer-facing role) and then into my current role as Head of Research and Development. I now look after a department of 25-30 people.
What appealed to you about a career at Sterling?
I realised that I wanted to pursue a career in chemical manufacturing, and it appealed to me that Sterling were supporting the pharmaceutical industry and working with customers to make new drug substances to help people.
What would your advice be to women and girls looking to get into STEM?
Go for it; careers in STEM are open to everyone and there are lots of opportunities and different types of careers available!
What do you think could be done to inspire more girls and young women into STEM?
I think continuing to publicise, especially in schools and on social media, the wide range of career opportunities within STEM so that girls, young women and young non-binary people at school age are aware of what a job in science can lead to and so they aren’t put off by thinking that it’s not for them.
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